An Overview of U.S. Foreign Embassies and Consulates

Calendar Icon Updated January 15, 2019
Visas

When applying for a visa, much of your application process will center around interactions with U.S. foreign embassies and consulates. Before you begin your application process, it’s a good idea to learn more about the roles and functions of these entities.

A United States foreign embassy is the diplomatic center of the United States affairs with another country. Many times, an embassy is found in a foreign nation’s capital city. It is the headquarters for the ambassador, chief of mission, staff and a variety of other agencies including the Department of Defense, Commerce, Agriculture and so forth. In all, more than 27 U.S. government agencies work on an international basis and an embassy may house some or all of them.

Consulates may be thought of as branch embassies and can be located in several of the host country’s other regions or provinces. They are led by a Consul General who reports to the Ambassador. The consulates perform many of the same functions as an embassy. While there is only one embassy in a foreign country, there can be several consulates. When they are combined, embassies and consulates are said to comprise the United State’s diplomatic missions throughout the world. In general, diplomatic missions are important because they are thought of as a formal symbolic mark of friendship between two countries.

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Functions of a U.S. Embassy

One of the primary functions of a U.S. embassy is to transmit messages from the government of the United States to the government of the host country. A military attaché serves the same function between the armed forces of the two countries.

Embassy and consulate staff have a broad range of other duties ranging from assisting people in obtaining visas to helping United States citizens in a variety of circumstances. The role in issuing visas is considerable. In 2014 alone, foreign embassies and consulates issued more than 10 million immigrant and nonimmigrant visas.

Diplomatic missions may also function as intermediaries between U.S. business interests and local businesses, provide outreach to local educational institutions and help private citizens work through U.S. policies, practices and procedures. Staff also keeps tabs on political, cultural and economic issues that may impact the United States as well. And, U.S. embassy and consulate staffs work with local and international law enforcement agencies to fight crime. 

The United States government offers more information and a comprehensive list of embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions on a website located here.

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